Gary Asquith winds back to 1989 and recounts a tale about cocaine, cursed death masks and a somewhat informal business meeting with Robert Plant
‘Biting My Nails’ was one of our early songs. Prior to being Renegade Soundwave, Karl Bonnie, Danny Briottet and I called ourselves Murder Music. We definitely played the track at The Danceteria in New York, when we supported Kevin Mooney’s band Max a couple of times. We’d got the gigs through Bettina Köster from Malaria!. Bettina and I had played together in a group called Mutabor! and she was booking bands for The Danceteria back then.
When I was at my flat at Eaton Rise in London, Karl Bonnie used to come round and we’d go through my record collection and smoke joints and hang out. Karl wasn’t aware of Genevieve Waite’s ‘Romance Is On The Rise’ album, which has the original of ‘Biting My Nails’ on it, until I played the record to him.
My memory of our version was that Karl and Danny Briottet had got together and written a piece of music which they then gave to me. It sounded very commercial – and I’m more controversial than commercial. Karl kind of instigated it. He said, ‘You know you were playing ‘Biting My Nails’ from the Genevieve Waite album the other night? The lyrics of that will work with this piece of music. Why don’t you work on adding them to the track?’.
The thing with ‘Biting My Nails’ was that it was just off the back of ‘Cocaine Sex’. I felt that was it for me with cocaine. ‘Cocaine Sex’ was kind of my summary of the drug and the lifestyle. I didn’t want to do another cocaine song, I didn’t want people to think I could only sing about cocaine, I wanted to get on with something else, but ‘Biting My Nails’ is really another cocaine song. I could see where Karl was coming from with making it work, which it obviously did, but I wanted to neutralise it.
There were lines in the original song like, ‘A flake of snow on a silver spoon’, and it was quite obvious to me what that was about. It was about hanging out to get some coke. I understood what Karl was saying about it, I understood that we had a mainstream piece of music and it needed some really good lyrics to go on top of it, but I cut out all the lines about coke. I added the line, ‘A sound system plays a Renegade tune’ instead.
Karl and Danny put a Led Zeppelin sample on our version of the track. Some time after we recorded it, I was looking after a rehearsal studio in London for the weekend with someone I knew from my Covent Garden days, a guy called Steve Friend. We’d had a night of excessive drinking and the following day we were stumbling around, gradually waking up, and we had ‘Biting My Nails’ playing on rotation. Suddenly the doorbell went. Steve opened the window to see who it was, then pulled his head back in and said, ‘You’re never going to believe who’s outside. It’s Robert Plant’.
Robert Plant had come to look at the studio. Steve jumped downstairs to let him in the door and he wandered up to the area we were sitting in to have a look around. The end of ‘Biting My Nails’ was kind of receding into the background and I said to him, ‘It’s strange that you should appear like that, Robert. I’m in this funny little band called Renegade Soundwave and we’ve sampled one of Jimmy Page’s guitars’. I played the track again, said we needed to clear the sample, and he said, ‘It’s fine with me’. He was standing around, jigging about a bit. It was such a weird moment.
I don’t know what Karl and Danny did individually on ‘Biting My Nails’. Karl had a big part on stuff like ‘Murder Music’, ‘Pocket Porn’ and ‘On TV’ on the ‘Soundclash’ album, and other stuff that maybe I instigated or was the stronger element in. He always got it. I’m sure he was doing that with Danny too. I’d brought Danny into Mass, the band I was in after Rema-Rema, but Karl connected with him faster than I did with either of them. They were a great unit, but I don’t think Karl gets enough credit these days. He was probably the most talented one in Renegade Soundwave, musically at least.
Flood was also very involved with ‘Biting My Nails’. I think that was possibly the first piece of music that Flood worked on with us. He brought colour, dynamics and beauty to the project. I think ‘Soundclash’ would have been a good album anyway, don’t get me wrong, but Flood had a deep understanding of what I was trying to do on top of the music. He helped me make some really good decisions and I respect him a lot for encouraging that.
Danny had the original artwork for ‘Biting My Nails’, which has this kind of death mask on it. The picture had pride of place in his sitting room. I remember going to his flat one day to find it was gone and Danny walking around cussing. Where this picture was normally embedded into his environment, it wasn’t there anymore. It was as if someone had taken the fireplace away. ‘What’s going on with the artwork, Danny?’ I asked him. ‘It’s cursed,’ he said.
I think Danny thought ‘Biting My Nails’ was such a commercial record and he had very high expectations of it – everything was going smoothly, things were gathering momentum with the group, and the track had a great little sample for the chorus and it had a bit of Led Zeppelin thrown in. Everyone should have liked it. A lot of people did like it, but it didn’t happen for some reason and Danny blamed it on the artwork.
For me, if I’m honest, I think ‘Biting My Nails’ is a diluted track. It’s an American pop song but it’s come from a bunch of guys from London. It floats around rather than definitively saying something. It hasn’t really got any precision to it, it’s not got a real Renegade edge to it. It’s like a pastiche of all sorts of things thrown into a melting pot, but somehow it is what it is, I guess, and it definitely works.
Gary Asquith has recently collaborated with Lee Curtis under the name Renegade Connection. They have just released an AA-side single coupling ‘I’ll Surrender’ and ‘White Flag Dub’ on Le Coq Musiqué